- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

The crowd howled, freshmen looked bewildered and even mundane tasks seemed important. And it was just the first workout.

Welcome to Midnight Madness, where Maryland’s only public practice filled Comcast Center last night. A spotlight by the front steps proved a beacon for basketball fans desperate for a roundball fix.

The late-night tradition started by former Terrapins coach Lefty Driesell has become a obsession on campuses across the country where fans swap sleep for a glimpse of the coming season that begins for Maryland on Nov.22 against American University.

“Each year you get excited about the start of the season,” coach Gary Williams said. “Midnight Madness gets tough sometimes because you start getting ‘can you top this?’ each year. There’s only so many things you can do. I don’t want players to do too much. It’s entertainment.”

Fans began pouring into courtside seats three hours before tipoff, with alumni getting a one-time chance to return to the closer student-only sections. An alumni game featuring former Terps Tom McMillen, Walt Williams and Ernest Graham, acrobats and shooting contests entertained the crowd before Gary Williams reached midcourt aboard a motorcycle to start practice. A crew from ESPN2’s “Cold Pizza” — a morning talk show that makes its debut Monday — even came for the 12-minute scrimmage that sandwiched a six-minute women’s game.

Mostly, the crowd wanted to see the five freshmen expected to re-energize the program. Hassan Fofana is a massive 6-foot-10, 300-pound center from Guinea whose size 19 shoe is the team’s largest since Williams’ 1989 arrival. Guard Mike Jones’ rainbow 3-pointers made him a Boston prep legend.

Guard D.J. Strawberry is the son of former baseball star Darryl Strawberry, which should make him a target of Duke’s Cameron Crazies. Wil Bowers is a towering center whose lean 6-11, 230-pound frame is reminiscent of McMillen’s. Ekene Ibekwe is a shot-blocking power forward who was a consensus top 40 prospect.

Fans also watched returning forwards Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison. Caner-Medley, the only returning starter, appears past the broken ankle he sustained in the NCAA tournament. Garrison greatly increased his upper body strength in the offseason despite losing two pounds. After a summer European tour with fellow Terps guard Chris McCray, Garrison seems ready to display the rougher style underneath, something he lacked last season.

“Even with all the offseason individual work, you still don’t know what you have until you get out there,” Williams said. “Our team is so different this year. We’ve had veteran players that carried us, and now we’ll have to do it with a young group.”

This was women’s coach Brenda Frese’s second Midnight Madness at Maryland. The women’s team regularly played before 2,000 last year but has sold 40 courtside seats for the first time. Still, this was the biggest crowd the players probably will see.

“This event is really exciting,” Frese said. “I can see why players have so much fun. It’s a reward for how hard they worked this fall getting ready for the season.”

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